About the Surrey Hills
There are so many different areas under the Surrey Hills umbrella and terms that people use to describe different areas that I thought I’d write a page to try and help people understand how everything fits together as it can get quite confusing!
Mountain Bikers – The Surrey Hills Are Not a Trail Centre!
From reading various forums, people do seem confused with the Surrey Hills compared to the dedicated trail centres that have opened up around Britain. For me, the main differences you need to understand when visiting the Surrey Hills to go mountain biking are:
- There is only one waymarked trail (Summer Lightning) so you either need to come with someone who knows their way around (try a shop or guided ride), be prepared to explore for yourself, or come armed with maps/gpx routes to follow and be able to navigate back to where you parked!
- There’s no visitor centre with facilities or any one point of access. You can join routes from a large number of places. You’ll need to plan and navigate your way to somewhere for refreshments or bring your own.
For people visiting the area for the first time, this leads to a lot of confusion about where the best places are to ride, location of the famous trails etc. Indeed, the sheer size of the area and number of possible routes can be quite overwhelming and off-putting.
The Surrey Hills
The Surrey Hills is one of 38 designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England and Wales. Together, these AONBs represent 18% of the countryside. According to Natural England, the body with the powers to designate these areas under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW), AONBs are:
“areas of high scenic quality that have statutory protection in order to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of their landscapes”
Originally designated as an ANOB in 1958, the Surrey Hills covers a quarter of the county of Surrey which, depsite being one of the most urbaised counties in England, is itself 84% countryside.
The ANOB stretches from Frensham in the west to Oxsted in the east and from Mickleham in the north to Haslemere in the south taking in a variety of landscapes.
The Surrey Hills AONB is managed by the Surrey Hills Board.
The North Downs
To the north, the main feature of the Surrey Hills is the North Downs, a ridge of chalk hills running from Farnham in the west along the Hog’s Back to Guildford, taking in St Martha’s, Newlands corner, across to Ranmore, Denbies, Box Hill near Dorking and onwards to Kent ending in Dover.
The North Downs Way is a National Trail running the entire length from Farnham to Dover with a total of 153 miles of trail. However, it is predominantly for walkers as not all of it is accessible to bikers due to being a mixture of footpaths (boo), bridleways (31 miles), BOATs (21 miles) and roads (30 miles).
The Greensand Ridge
Sometimes referred to incorrectly under the broad umbrella of the North Downs, the Greensand Ridge is a range of sandstone hills running roughly parallel to, and south of, the North Downs from the Devil’s Punchbowl in the west, to Hascombe and then the four mountain biking gems of the Winterfold, Pitch Hill, Holmbury Hill and Leith Hill – the areas I spend most of my time. The Greensand Ridge is not a commonly used term – the constituent hills and areas are usually referred to by their individual names.
The Greensand Way runs from Haslemere in the south west to Oxted in the east. Again, the entire route is not suitable for mountain biking as it includes footpaths.
The Hurtwood is an important sub-section of the Surrey Hills and the Greensand Ridge as, not only does it cover some of the best mountain biking, including Pitch Hill, Holmbury Hill and parts of Winterfold, there is also the “right to roam” on the Hurtwood. This means that mountain bikers are not restricted to just bridleways and BOATs but can also ride footpaths and any other existing trails (hurrah!).